Forum Asserts Africa’s Willingness to Act and Need for Support to Address Climate Change

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“[Africa] will no longer accept to pay for the crimes of others,” said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, referring to the consequences of climate change. “But for our voice from Africa to be heard and taken seriously, it is no longer just enough to speak as one. We need to be ready to put our own contributions on the table, in terms of financing and concrete ideas.” Africa contributes only about four percent of the world’s total carbon emissions, but its countries are among the most vulnerable to changing weather patterns brought on by rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Many major African cities are along coasts, making them vulnerable to sea level rise, coastal erosion, and extreme weather. Changing rainfall patterns threaten to dry up water resources in some areas—reducing food security—and increase the risk of floods in other areas. Rising temperatures could facilitate the spread of vector-borne disease and reduce fish populations in lakes in many parts of the continent. The Director of the Food Security and Sustainable Development Division of the ECA, Josue Dione, told the forum that Africans would not wait for the next Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to act. Emphasizing the need for African countries to commit to action on climate change, UN Under Secretary Abdoulie Janneh said at the end of the week, “We must mobilize our own resources to really again underpin the importance we attach to climate change.” Former Botswanan President Festus Mogae stated that even though Africans have contributed the least to climate change, they are “nevertheless bound to take notice of what is happening” and make their best effort to avoid repeating the mistakes of others. But the forum repeatedly urged developed countries to fulfill pledges made to Africa to help them develop adaptation and mitigation strategies. African leaders called on the international community to set up a fund to help poor countries deal with impending hardships brought on by climate change. Janneh reminded the audience that “At Copenhagen, the centrality of financing to underpin effective adaptation and mitigation action was recognized.” In December 2009, at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, developed countries promised $30 billion by 2012 for developing countries to implement climate change mitigation actions, including financing for adaptation and reducing GHG emissions from deforestation. Additionally, the wealthy nations committed to raising $100 billion annually by 2020. “We are not contributing much to this phenomenon of climate change,” Janneh said. “It is therefore imperative that decisive actions are made to deliver commitments promised at Copenhagen.” This will help send a signal that industrialized countries are serious about action on climate change, and may help cultivate an international spirit of trust and compromise. But delays or failures to deliver on promises could be destructive to the collective international effort. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said warned that if developed nations did not change their approach to the debate on climate change, then the next UNFCCC Conference of Parties—beginning at the end of November in Cancun, Mexico—was doomed to fail. Janneh was optimistic about the outcomes of the ADF VII and praised the level of participation as well as the quality of the debates. Africa is actively addressing the challenges presented by climate change, and is willing to mobilize its own resources to the best of its ability. But the continent faces unavoidable financial limitations, as well as overwhelming challenges to sustainable development. Janneh asserts, “Africa has a legitimate claim to additional resources because its peoples face a danger they did not create; and that fact is not negotiable.”

Danielle Nierenberg
Danielle Nierenberg, an expert on livestock and sustainability, currently serves as Project Director of State of World 2011 for the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based environmental think tank. Her knowledge of factory farming and its global spread and sustainable agriculture has been cited widely in the New York Times Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and
other publications.

Danielle worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She is currently traveling across Africa looking at innovations that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty and blogging everyday at Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet. She has a regular column with the Mail & Guardian, the Kansas City Star, and the Huffington Post and her writing was been featured in newspapers across Africa including the Cape Town Argus, the Zambia Daily Mail, Coast Week (Kenya), and other African publications. She holds an M.S. in agriculture, food, and environment from Tufts University and a B.A. in environmental policy from Monmouth College.
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